How pre-flight safety videos can save lives

A safety video playing on board an Emirates Airbus A380-800 in January 2019. Airlines spend millions producing these videos and change them often, hoping that people will pay attention. — Dreamstime/TNS

If you’ve flown recently you’ve probably watched – wait, who am I kidding, failed to watch – an airline’s pre-flight safety video. And look, I get it. You didn’t watch because nothing ever happens.

Until it does, as it did at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Jan 2, when a Japan Airlines Airbus A350 struck a military aircraft upon landing, and five days later when a large piece of an Alaska Airlines 737 ripped away from the fuselage at nearly 5,000m. The fact that all 379 passengers and crew safely escaped the burning JAL aircraft with just a few minor injuries, and that no one was sucked out of the 737, which made a safe emergency landing, have been called miraculous.

But I suspect something besides divine intervention was going on. Maybe, just maybe, it was the airlines’ pre-departure safety videos.

I took four flights on JAL in 2019 and I remember at the time being very impressed by their video. I remember thinking, wow these people know how to send a message. They don’t just tell, they show, they’re all business, no fluff. There was no idyllic scenery, no flight attendants riding in bumpy golf carts with celebrity golfers while demonstrating why bumpy flights require seatbelts.

Instead, on the JAL video, which is animated and runs about four minutes, they show an unbelted passenger levitating out of his seat during severe turbulence. And more to the point, at about the 2:34 mark, it warns passengers to, “Leave your baggage when you evacuate!”

The message is delivered by a scowling, no nonsense flight attendant.

But here’s the kicker: in the next scene, some jerk grabs his carry-on from the overhead cabin and drags it to the exit. The other passengers are not pleased and make their displeasure known with facial grimaces and animated gesticulations. Meanwhile, the selfish jerk jumps down the slide anyway, causing predictable chaos as he and his bag block other passengers from reaching safety.

In other words, the airline feels very strongly about leaving carry-ons on board.

The video also goes into unusual detail about how to jump onto an evacuation slide (I’ve done this; it’s not as easy as it looks).

And indeed, videos and reports after the JAL crash made clear that the passengers followed instructions. That’s in contrast to a similar incident when Emirates Flight 521 crash-landed in Dubai one August and many passengers carried their bags from the plane, which, minutes after hitting the runway, became a fireball.

Most also neglected to leave their shoes on for landing, advice that some airlines used to emphasise in their safety videos (some still do). Most of the injuries (32 in total, four of which were serious) were for third-degree burns on passengers’ feet when they hit the sizzling tarmac in the middle of an Arabian Peninsula summer.

It appears that passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight were all safely belted in, since the plane was still reaching cruising altitude. The only things sucked out of the plane were a few personal possessions.

Airlines spend millions producing these videos and change them often hoping that people will pay attention, but most passengers figure they know everything already because they’ve already seen it, like 10 years ago if even then, and bury their noses in their phones or books.

Look, flying is still far safer than driving, and far safer than when I first started flying the 1960s. During that decade over 8,000 passengers and crew died in commercial aviation accidents (I counted them).

But airlines and their passengers can make it even safer if pre-flight safety instructions are more show and less tell, and if passengers watch and listen each and every time they fly. — Tribune News Service

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